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June 2008 Archives

Gotta love the American criminal justice system. I think it's one of the worst among so-called "developed" countries. With many judges elected just like politicians, and the big decisions left to twelve people they pull off the street, it's no wonder I'd see the following two headlines in my local gay newspaper:

Six Years for Blowing a Man
http://gaycitynews.com/site/news.cfm?newsid=19787668

Three Years for Killing a Gay Man
http://gaycitynews.com/site/index.cfm?newsid=19787665

Alright, alright.. so the first guy technically committed a rape. Call me politically incorrect, but since this doesn't involve a minor, or forced penetration, then I'm guessing the six year sentence has more to do with homophobia than the actual harm done during this crime.


pic: martin delaneyLast night, Marty Delaney was honored at an event in Washington, DC. Marty is one of my heroes. He was the founder of Project Inform, and has been an AIDS treatment activist longer than anyone I know.

Back in the late 80's, when ACT UPers like myself starting pushing the government and big pharma to move faster in finding treatments for people living with HIV/AIDS, we quickly discovered that a great deal of groundwork had already been laid by Marty and one or two other gay men (notably Jay Lipner, a Manhattan-based lawyer -- see his NY Times obit). They had the smarts and patience to teach themselves about the scientific process and the inner workings of the bureaucracies involved in AIDS research.

They created AIDS treatment activism. I’m alive today because of gay men like Marty.

In addition to AIDS bigwigs like Robert Gallo, AIDSmeds.com’s very own David Evans paid tribute to Marty last night, with these wonderful remarks:

They say if you want to get to know someone well, you should spend several hours in a car with them. Since 1993 I’ve taken hundreds of car trips, dozens of plane rides and even spent a few hours in an indigenous canoe in the Caribbean just off the coast of Panama with Marty. I’ve come to know him well. It would take 100 hours to go into even half of it, but I’ve only got a few minutes and I want to take this time to tell you a few things about him that others may not know or mention.

There is a political Marty. He’s definitely left leaning, but he’s rarely partisan -- particularly when it comes to HIV. He’s equally generous with his criticism and praise of both Republicans and Democrats. This isn’t Machiavellian political gamesmanship. Speaking the truth is very important to him, and damn the politics, and damn what’s expedient or polite. This hasn’t always made him popular with politicians, government officials, or pharmaceutical executives—or even other AIDS activists. In fact I’ve watched him get beat up over his work many times, both publicly and privately.

Marty is not a typical activist. He’s unlikely to get arrested in front of the New York stock exchange or the Capitol building. Yet he repeatedly risked arrest and prison in the late 1980s, smuggling in drugs from Mexico that we once hoped would effectively treat HIV. He helped with the founding of the first buyers clubs that worked on quasi-illegal generic formulations of AIDS drugs in development. Marty will gladly buck authority and break the rules when he believes that there’s no other rational way to accomplish his goals.

Marty isn’t much of a yeller and screamer. When he sees a problem his first instinct is usually to figure out who is the person with the most power to effect the change he wants and then to pick up the phone and call that person, and to keep calling until he gets what he wants. This means that his advocacy work is often private, rather than public, and that much of his work has gone unnoticed and unacknowledged.

When I first met Marty in 1991 I had no idea who he was. I was a Project Inform volunteer and he was a guy with a briefcase who swooped in and out of the office once or twice a week. I didn’t get to know him well until we went on a road tour together of town-hall style meetings in 1993. We hit about fifty cities a year over the next three or four years. I’d do the legwork - fly in, rent a car, find a map – this was way before online driving directions or GPS – and get things set up. I’d pick Marty up at the airport the next day and we’d spend the next two to five days together, sometimes doing meetings in three or four towns in a row.

All of this began soon after the depressing results of the Concord study, which found that AZT all by itself didn’t increase survival. They were lean years, with far too many funerals. But Marty, privy to the earliest exciting data on the protease inhibitors in development saw it as his personal mission to keep people hopeful and healthy long enough for the drugs to become available. From 1993, until protease inhibitors became available at the end of 1995, Marty spoke in front of thousands of people, some of them terribly ill, and urged them to hang on just a little longer. Though he’s not a religious man, and thinks with the intellectual discipline of a scientist, he’s often said that when hope is lost, the body usually follows. When all we had to offer was hope, that’s what he strived to give people.

But his roadshow was just the warm up to some of the most intense, private work that took much of his personal time. At the end of each town meeting people lined up to talk to Marty. Most just wanted to thank him, or follow up on something he’d said in his talk. But there were always a few who faced profound problems -- sometimes life threatening problems –everything from doctors who kept them on a failing and toxic regimen for too long, or who failed to catch an opportunistic infection early enough, or problems accessing a needed treatment. It was then, with each one of these people, when Marty went into action, usually giving people his private home number so that in the coming days, and nights and weekends, they could together navigate those problems and find solutions. I imagine there are a few of you in this room tonight who are alive because of the direct help Marty gave you.

Marty’s a complicated person, and like any human being he’s not always right, or even in the best mood. But he’s always, always tried to live by a set of principles that include compassion, honesty, responsibility, fairness and what’s right and true.

For each of one of us who’s born witness to the horror and tragedy of this microscopic virus, it’s hard to imagine what it would have been like without Marty’s guiding hand. He’s indirectly helped tens of thousands of people by shaping clinical trials, the development of HIV drugs, and policies affecting treatment access and the price of drugs. And much more personally he’s helped thousands of people one-on-one. He prophesized hope when there seemed none. And more important still he stood with one person after another, taking it on himself to solve problems, overcome obstacles and ensure care in such a way that many came to see him as a kind of healthcare guardian angel. It’s important to honor his achievements, but it’s also important to honor his humanity, and that’s what I hope you will do.

Nice news comes from a friend of mine from the ACT UP and Treatment Action Group days. Dudley Saunders is a singer and writer whose music was described by one reviewer this way: "think Jeff Buckley meets Joni Mitchell."

His first music video is about addiction and recovery (a subject I can certainly relate to), and is called The Undoing (Every Day). Check it out...

Dudley also has a great website -- dudleysaunders.com -- with more info about his life and work, samples of his music, and an expressive blog.

I saw him perform last year at the Hotel Fauchere in Milford, PA, and thoroughly enjoyed it. So here's my shout out to Dudley -- it was great seeing you after all these years. You looked great. Congrats on the new music video!

This week we're witnessing a great moment in gay history, as thousands of gay and lesbian couples are saying their wedding vows in California. Being a Californian by birth, the state has always been one of my homes, and it made me proud this week.

In today's LA Times, there's a must read editorial about gay marriage. Here's just a bit of it:

Opponents of same-sex marriage often deplore this expansion of the meaning of marriage because they view it as threatening to traditional unions. As they use this day as a rallying point for a proposed amendment to the state Constitution to ban such marriages, it's time to ask them directly: How does marriage of one type threaten others? Why do many heterosexuals feel that the beauty of their own marriage vows is in no way changed by today's weddings, while others feel theirs have somehow been diminished?

Perhaps the next few months will ease these fears, as same-sex couples begin their married lives together. Those couples will settle into communities without disorder or threat; they will bring legal protection to their bonds of love. Those bonds can only be good for society -- children gain from being raised by married parents, and communities are stronger when residents are legally committed to one another. As more and more Californians marry, society will grow stronger, not weaker.


Phyllis Lyon (right) and Del Martin cut their wedding cake as Mayor Gavin Newsom and a crowd of onlookers cheer in San Francisco's City Hall.
The November ballot initiative to reverse all this is now the greatest gay rights battle of our time. Anyone who cares about the advancement of gay rights should consider joining this fight in some way.

Personally, I plan on writing a big check this summer to Equality For All, the lead group that will be fighting the November ballot initiative. I donate to various gay groups each year, but I'm giving them all a year off, and sending the money to EFA instead -- it's that important.

If you are unable to donate, there's a handy "tell a friend" button on their website, so you can help spread the word.

I'm well aware that many in the gay community are lukewarm at best about the concept of marriage. I'm not running to the altar myself. The bf and I aren't feelin' that kind of tradition... yet. But the very fact that those who hate me -- those who hate us -- are insisting my relationship is unworthy of this option, makes my blood boil. I reject any view, implication, law, or ballot box vote that tells me my relationship is less than anyone else's.

So gay marriage isn't the most important right we've ever fought for. But the bigoted religious right has decided this is their heaviest club for beating us down. It's time to shatter that club for good. If we win this fight, it will be the biggest "in your face" the religious right has ever received. And it will go down in history as the first nail in the coffin of the Bush-fed culture wars.

Peter Staley, AIDS Victim

| 7 Comments

So I guess I didn’t properly introduce myself during my first blog posting. I’m Peter Staley, and I founded AIDSmeds.com a little over eight years ago. Here’s a broad outline of my forty-seven years:

I was born in Sacramento, California in 1961, the third of four kids. Because I have two older brothers, I turned out gay (see the science explaining this here). My dad worked as a plant manager for Procter & Gamble at the time, so we moved around the country a lot until I was eight years old. At that point he was hired to run the PQ Corporation, which was based in Philadelphia at the time, and we moved to Berwyn, PA, on the storied “Main Line” (see Katharine Hepburn in The Philadelphia Story).

I studied classical piano, which, after some bad grades in high school, got me into the Oberlin Conservatory of Music. While piano was my ticket to college, I didn’t think it would be my ticket to life, so I transferred into Oberlin College after one semester and double majored in economics and government.

As I visited London by myself to check out a possible junior year abroad at the London School of Economics, I had my first gay sex (actually, a crash course in gay sex – seven nights, seven men). I turned 20 on that first night.

Just before graduating from Oberlin in 1983, I did a bunch of interviews on Wall Street, and got a job offer from JP Morgan, where my brother Jes was working (and still works, practically running it now). After a brief stint out of the closet at Oberlin, I went deep inside it once again on Wall Street.

While working long hours in Morgan’s commercial bank training program that first year, I let off steam on St. Mark’s Place in the East Village each weekend, starting at the Boy Bar (or a few blocks away at The Bar), and, on occasion, ending up at the St. Mark’s Baths across the street. It was the summer of 1983, and for reasons I might explain someday in another blog entry, I’m pretty sure I was infected that August.

Fast forward to 1985, and read my first blog posting here about how I was diagnosed. I almost immediately disclosed and came out to my family and close friends. With 351 CD4 cells, and Reagan in the White House, my prospects weren’t good. I fought for each month, and each year.

Then I found religion. No, not that kind of religion. I found ACT UP, the AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power. They held their first demonstration on Wall Street, March 24, 1987, and we talked about it on the trading floor at JP Morgan. I never missed a meeting after that.

I became head of its fundraising committee – bond trader by day, AIDS activist by night – until my CD4 cells dived with the Dow after Black Monday. I went on disability in March of ’88, and got arrested blocking traffic during ACT UP’s first anniversary demo, again on Wall Street. A local TV station shoved a camera in my face. I was on the news that night, with the caption “Peter Staley, AIDS Victim” in big bold letters.

The head of ACT UP’s media committee, Michelangelo Signorile, decided I was good with the art of the sound bite, and before the year was out I was in the hot seat on CNN’s Crossfire arguing with Pat Buchanan about safe-sex. I became an ACT UP media whore (Donahue, Nightline, 60 Minutes, Wall Street Journal, NY Times, Rollingstone, Advocate cover boy, etc.), while racking up ten arrests for civil disobedience.

I proudly organized some memorable ACT UP moments, like shutting down trading on the New York Stock Exchange, and putting a giant condom over Senator Jesse Helms’ house.

A bunch of us from ACT UP’s Treatment & Data Committee split off and formed TAG, the Treatment Action Group, in 1992. With giants like Mark Harrington and Gregg Gonsalves, we quickly became an advocacy powerhouse.

In 1997, after ten years of AIDS activism, I decided to take a break. I worked with an amazing career counselor who helped me figure out how to return to the “real world” while fulfilling my dream of becoming an entrepreneur. We accomplished both goals with AIDSmeds.com, which launched in March of 2000.

There’s some other stuff on the resume as well, including a recent bout of activism against crystal meth, but I’ll save those for future blog posts.

I sold AIDSmeds to the guy who owns POZ Magazine a little over two years ago, and I continue to work here part-time. The freelancer I hired from day one to write our amazing lessons, the tireless Tim Horn, is now my boss.

And the future? Who knows. Maybe this blog will help me figure that out.

The Picture

| 19 Comments

The picture is faded now, much like my memories of the day it was taken. I was in Amsterdam on vacation from my job as a bond trader at JP Morgan.

I was free... free from the closet I carefully built and lived in back in New York. No one from the bank, or members of my family, would see me there. I could just be me, at least for a week.

So I smoked some semi-legal weed, laughed at the mime that blocked the tram in Dam Square, walked for miles along the straten en grachten, and fell in love with a Dutchman. His name was Peter, like mine. His hair was dark, not Dutch blond, from his Spanish ancestry.

We asked someone to take a picture of us on one of the canal bridges. It's my B.H.I.V. picture - before HIV - that last picture of me before I got the news.

Fast forward a couple of months to a Monday night in November, 1985. Peter surprised me by making good on his promise to visit me in New York, and we're watching An Early Frost on NBC. It was the first major made-for-TV film about AIDS, and a young and beautiful Aidan Quinn was playing the son who has to tell his family he's gay and has AIDS (within weeks, I would have to do the same, and called it the "Early Frost Double Whammy").

Quinn's character finds out he has AIDS after a persistent cough, which turns out to be PCP pneumonia. As we watched, Peter kind of laughed nervously, and said "he's coughing like you." For me, it was only a persistent cold, but the comment prompted me to visit my doctor two days later.

My doctor was the late Dan William, one of the best gay docs in New York. Having a large, mostly gay male practice, many of whom were now dying from AIDS, Dan got in the practice of running a complete blood count (CBC) on his undiagnosed patients that showed up with absolutely any health concern, including a common cold.

On Friday, November 15th, 1985, his office called me at my trading desk, and told me I had a low white blood count - could I come back to the office that day for further tests. I pressed them to tell me what their suspicions were, and they eventually told me "it could be indicative of an HIV infection."

That was the moment. Every moment after that was A.H.I.V. I grew up fast. I made a lot of hard decisions. I had to fight like hell if I was going to make it to 25 or 26 years old.

Innocence was lost. No, I don't mean I was now "guilty," or even felt that way. I mean that my carefree youth - the innocence of youth - had come to an abrupt end.

I look back on that picture in Amsterdam, and I see the innocence of youth in my face. Even though the best years of my life were still to come, I still mourn the loss of that innocence.

Peter and Peter in Amsterdam



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